The communist-led government in Kerala has refused to phase-out alcohol from the southern Indian state, triggering protests from prohibitionists, opposition parties and Catholic groups. The previous United Democratic Front-led government introduced a policy in 2014 that planned to make Kerala a alcohol-free state within a decade. Since then, officials have closed 20 percent of the state's liquor retailers. The previous government also canceled the alcohol licenses of about 710 bars and restaurants exempting only five-star establishments. The policy was backed by women and religious groups such as the Catholic Church, who claimed alcohol consumption harms families, pushes people into poverty and adversely affects children. However, the new Communist Party led-government that took office in May this year decided not follow the policy. The cabinet has decided to "maintain the status quo on the number of outlets until a fresh policy or an amendment to the previous policy is made," State Excise Minister T.P. Ramakrishnan told media. The government's policy was abstinence and not prohibition, he said. A new policy will be announced by March 2017. A joint body of anti-liquor consumption organizations led by the Temperance Commission of Kerala Catholic Bishop's plans to submit 100,000 signatures to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Oct. 15 demanding total prohibition in the state, said Charlie Paul, its general secretary. They also staged a "standing protest" in the state's commercial capital of Kochi Oct. 2 to oppose the communist government's decision. About 1,500 people participated in the 90 minute long protest, said the Temperance Commission secretary Father Jacob Vellamaruthunkal. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala accused the government of accepting funds from the liquor lobby during elections and brokering a deal with them. The church in Kerala said that the decision "is against the interest of the people. And, it will have disastrous consequences," according to Father Varghese Vallikatt, deputy secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Council of India. "The government holds the view that the existing policy has failed to bring down alcohol consumption," said Father Varghese. "If so, it should come out with its own policy that can produce the desired result instead of increasing the availability of liquor." Father T.J. Antony, who works closely with the church's anti-liquor campaign, told ucanews.com that the government may run into problems if it alters a policy that was approved by the Indian Supreme Court. When challenged in 2015, the court said the state government has the freedom to curtail or ban public consumption of alcohol to protect health and nutrition. Father Antony said church officials may explore the possibility of challenging the government decision in court. Contrary to government claims, the existing policy led to sharp fall in the consumption of liquor, he said. "The statistics show a decline in the number of road accidents and liquor related crimes in the last two years," he said. "The government's refusal to move toward complete prohibition will ruin several families and destroy the peace in society."
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According to the National Sample Survey Office, Kerala has the country's second highest per capita alcohol consumption rate, with per person consuming 10.2 liters of alcohol per year. More than 40 percent of the revenue for Kerala's annual budget comes from the sale of alcohol. Data shows that Kerala is also the second most accident-prone state, with the national Alcohol and Drug Information Center showing that around 40 percent of road accidents occurred because the driver was under the influence of alcohol.